A visit with… First Steps Daycare

By Heather Gibson

HURLEYVILLE – “I can’t figure out why you want to interview me Heather, I’m really not that interesting!” Diane Harvey laughed.
Diane is the owner and operator of J & C First Steps Daycare, LLC in Hurleyville. She is clearly modest, and despite her petite frame and quiet nature, she has strong visions for both her business and her family, fully intending to carry out every one of them.
Diane and Tony Harvey were living in Brooklyn when they decided they wanted more for their young sons. They wanted the boys to grow up in the country. They longed for smaller classrooms, teacher interaction, green grass to run around on, and fresh country air. Tired of concrete and car horns, they made the decision to move their family to Hurleyville.
Jalen is now 16, and Cody 14. Both are in National Honor Society, and thriving in their school environment. Diane couldn’t be happier with the decision they made many years ago, and although she was once afraid to go outside– “we didn’t have snakes and water bugs in the city”– she eventually grew to love living in “the woods.”
“Childcare is all I know,” Diane says. Prior to owning her own business, she worked for another daycare for over fifteen years. When she moved upstate she became certified by The Sullivan County Child Care Council and opened a daycare in her home. She also became certified in CPR and First Aid, and keeps up on all required credentials throughout the year. You won’t find children watching Disney Junior in Diane’s program. She is proud to be a “TV free” daycare, believing that entertainment comes in many forms, and encouraging creativity and self-growth through movement and discovery.
Her philosophy is simple: Children learn through play.
She stocks her program with puzzles, books and toys. She rotates these frequently so the children don’t get bored. Crayons and paper are left out on a table, so that if a child gets inspired to express themselves by coloring or drawing, the materials are readily available. The children have 30 minutes of story time daily, but Diane emphasizes most– especially now that the weather is nice– that they must spend a lot of time outside.
You may have seen her walking around town, attached to a chain of children exercising safety by holding hands. They walk everywhere. They can be found in the Hurleyville Market having a snack, or in the post office mailing a letter. They walk down the Rail Trail, where they search for turtles and run freely on the path. They also walk up to the farm where they watch the cows and the chickens. Sometimes they take their snack up there, and just sit quietly among nature. They play at the basketball court, and have story time at The Little Free Library.
“The children got a big kick out of the yarn that dressed the trees in the park,” Diane said. “They loved to touch it, and put their face on it, and look at the bright colors.”
It is amazing how something so simple can provide such delight and a positive sensory experience for such little minds. She looks forward to spending more time at Fiber On Main, where the children will be able to feel wool and see how it is spun into yarn and then produce a familiar product like a rug or scarf.
Diane is very excited to see change and growth taking place in Hurleyville. She thinks it’s wonderful, only re-enforcing the decision she made long ago to come here in hopes of a better life.
She sometimes misses meeting friends in the city, and she misses the trains and subway system more than anything. Although she’s generally aggravated by crowds, there was something about the hustle and bustle of the subway that excited her. However, it’s a small thing to give up given what she’s found.
She says she’s most grateful for the teachers here. Whenever her sons have faced a challenge, she said, their teachers “would pick up the phone and call me right away, and together, we’d work on solving the issue.”
She believes attention to detail and good communication make all things possible. She calls immediately if either son brings home a grade lower than an 85. She wants to know “what can we do to bring that B up to an A?”
She believes her children have one “job” and that is to focus on school. There is no reason they shouldn’t thrive, given the right support.
She admits being a Mom isn’t easy. There are moments of joy and moments of tears. It is clear she’s proud of her boys, and she is happy with the respectful men they are growing to be. They hold the door open for her when she gets in the car, and that makes her smile, adding “when the parents pick up their children at 6 p.m., it’s time for Miss Diane to be Mommy. That is my time, our time. I clean up the toys, I wash the tables and floors, and I get dinner started for my family.”
She holds parents accountable for being late, and she makes sure she takes her own personal vacations.
“It’s important to rejuvenate and then I’m ready to come back and run around with the children again,” she said.
Unfortunately, J & C First Steps doesn’t have any openings. Diane says small town word-of-mouth has kept her business alive.
“When a child gets too old to attend my program, there’s usually another child already waiting in the wings to come in,” she said.
She is grateful for the parents of the kids in her daycare.
“They are all great parents. I’ve had most of their kids since they were just a few years old,” she said. “It’s rewarding to watch their kids grow and learn.”
Diane concluded by saying that this is her favorite time of year.
“Each week we have water games, and do summer camp-type activities, and each Friday we wrap up the week with an outdoor BBQ, which is fun for the children and their parents who join us.”
I left Diane’s house feeling peaceful. The kids were napping while Diane and I swapped stories of motherhood and spoke about the responsibility of caring for other people’s children. It’s a big responsibility for sure, but she accepts it with professionalism and dedication. Diane spoke to me about how a good morning or bad morning is sure to set the tone for the rest of the day. Funny, I feel the same way about daycare programs. So much growth happens in those first few years.
The world needs more people like Diane to guide children through their very first steps.